Whatever Happened To Salvatore?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I dreamed about Salvatore last night.
Salvatore was one of those freakish kids who’d achieved his full height in seventh grade – a muscular, bodybuilder’s height, complete with shaved head and wifebeater T-shirt.  He got away with bullying because he intimidated the teachers.
Salvatore was not a particularly subtle bully. His favorite technique was to watch the way you held your books.  If you did not clasp them to your chest – you know, like a girl was supposed to do – then he would bellow “OPEN CHEST!” and punch you, as hard as he could, in your stomach.  Pretty soon all the smaller guys in school were clasping their books to their chest, at which point Salvatore would make fun of you for holding your books like a giiirrrrul.
Though he was definitely a mixed-media bully.  Sometimes he’d rough you up in the locker room, just for a change-up.
I wasn’t one of Salvatore’s favorite targets, thankfully, but he was widespread enough that I caught a couple of suffocating hits to the gut.  I remember creeping around the hallways of middle school, forever on the lookout, paranoid for the next blow.  And last night, I dreamed I was locking the windows of my house against Salvatore, defending against his eventual incursion, only to discover that he was already in the house.
There’s probably a good solid Freudian interpretation of that dream, of course, given all the death we’ve suffered as of late.
But what I wondered was, What was Salvatore doing now?
For in my dream, Salvatore had grown, a colossal and angry and still-muscled man, still a bully, still relishing his physical power. He was frozen in the moment I knew him, almost thirty years ago.  Which is unreasonable .  Past a certain point, a man who yells “OPEN CHEST!” and punches random strangers on the bus ceases to be a bully and becomes a convict.  And he’d be pushing forty-five now, the age when men of physical strength start to feel it ebb, and that certainly would cause him to warp and change in different ways.  A bully like Salvatore wouldn’t have been able to be king of the middle school, he’d have to have gotten a job working for someone else, and certainly working as a hired hand would have taken the edge of his kingly violent demeanor.
That’s assuming, of course, that what he lived for was the thrill of the open chest.  He showed great glee whenever he punched me, of course, but that was my sole interaction with him.  It wasn’t like we hung out reading the newspapers and watching movies and discussing our dreams at the malt shop after the show, and then he buried his knuckles in my abdomen.  No, I didn’t know Salvatore in any way beyond thinking of him as a lurking menace.
Who the fuck was Salvatore?
Would Salvatore even remember me?  I doubt it.  Would he remember those days as his good old days, or – somehow worse – would he have forgotten who he was, having become a loving father and family man?  Were there grandchildren who loved their Grampops, never knowing there were men who had nightmares about him thirty years later?  It could be.  The past has a way of falling like snow over the worst of crimes, and by the time a man is old and feeble, a lot of complexity has been eroded.  Salvatore didn’t strike me as being the brightest bulb in the pack.  But some of my other bullies went on to become millionaire entrepreneurs (I know this because they apologized to me later for what they’d done in a truly bizarre high school reunion), and if I look back at my own past and go, “God, what an asshole I was back then,” then I have to think of Salvatore and allow for the possibility – not the certainty, but the possibility – that maybe he was going through his own stupid phase, egged on by other dumb kids to play a role that didn’t particularly suit him.
It’s possible Salvatore wakes up, dreaming of punching harmless boys in the chest, and wonders with a sort of existential terror, What was I doing?
People say Once a bully, always a bully, and of course there’s some truth to that.  But people also do tremendously stupid things as a teenager that they later regret tremendously, as they’re trying on all sorts of faces to see who they might be when they grow up – certainly I ran a lot of dumb pranks in my time, fuelled by the sort of relentlessly grim Howard Stern-inspired masculinity (which later mutated into 4-chan) that tells people that the only way to be strong is to dish out the strongest insults, and to endure them in exchange.  There were certainly people who saw me when I was 19 who thought that I was a bully, albeit a verbally abusive one, but…
…I’m not that guy any more.
Maybe Salvatore isn’t, either.
And maybe he is.  Some people never grow out of middle school.  But I always allow for the possibility of enlightenment, even if I wouldn’t necessarily invite Salvatore to a convention.
It’s one of the things we don’t like thinking about as humans, but it’s true regardless: Salvatore could have made some dumb mistakes that scarred people for life.  And those mistakes were made because Salvatore was like every kid at that age, relentlessly experimenting with personalities and traits, and he did irreparable damage even though who Salvatore eventually came to be was not a bully, but perhaps a kind and clever man.
But in my dreams, he still is.  And can never be anything but.
And probably, he pays absolutely no price for this.  Like I said, it’s unlikely that he remembers me at all.  He may not even remember his “OPEN CHEST!” beatings, having shrugged them off as just a thing he did once and now has no recollection of, a phase he had that amused him for a brief time and then was set aside, like the time I tried playing violin and discovered it hurt my fingers.
The past recedes in the rear-view mirror.  Only some people get to remember, and usually the ones who got hurt.
The others drive on, oblivious to that thumping beneath the wheels, not seeing the crumpled body left behind them.

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